Gene & Georgetti is alot of things to alot of people. Some say it is Legendary. Some say it is iconic. A little corner of old Chicago that is unaffected by the passing of time and the winds of change. Some people love it. They have been dining there for over 50 years. I have heard the stories all of my life, and I love each and every one...He met his wife there, or she had her first power lunch there in the 70's, many get engaged there - some bring in the next generation of their family and introduce them to what it means to eat a steak in Chicago....I have some pretty fantastic stories of my own - like tripping down the stairs in 6 inch heels and flying into a face first landing in the MIDDLE of the Saturday evening rush (AWKWARD), meeting Mariah Carey, celebrating my 21st birthday with 100 friends and thousands more. Sadly, some actually can't find one nice thing to say about it (reading YELP is probably one of the most difficult and infuriating things I ever have to do). But it takes all kinds to make the world go around and I have certainly learned growing up in the restaurant business that you cannot please all of the people all of the time...
For me, Gene and Georgetti is also many things - but none more than home. It is the birthplace of my grandfather's American dream. It is the only physical structure that has been in my family for my entire life (and my mother's). It is the heart and soul of our family - for better and for worse -and that one place that no matter what happens in my life, I can always get to, and feel better once I am there. Like I said - it is home.
For those of you who do not know, Gene, of Gene & Georgetti was my maternal grandfather. Gene Michelotti was enigmatic, to say the least. He was a man of small stature (my mother often tells stories of back in the 60's when she had hair-do's that combined with her stiletto heels made her taller than he was), but, you never really knew it because what he lacked in height he made up for with enormous character, great humor and an ability to embrace life and loved ones with an unconditional and joyful love that just made you want to be near him, and made him seem larger than life - especially to me.
He was born in Lucca, Italy - right outside the city in a very small little province where time has stood still. He had immense pride in his heritage, and he shared that pride with his 7 siblings growing up as typical Italian children did in that era. He came to the states with his father, at around 15 years of age, knowing barely any english, and one of his first jobs was that of a night watchman. When you hear that you think to yourself, "Well, gee, that's not so bad...?," However the detail that often gets overlooked is that this particular night watchman job included my grandfather being locked into the factory he watched, overnight. So, had there ever been any real hazard like a fire or something similar - I would not be sitting her putting this very story to paper (or computer in this case). To me - few things are more terrifying than being LOCKED in a place, however big or small, and yet this young man took this job, ignoring any fear or concern, because he knew he had to. He had family in Italy who depended on him and he had no one but himself to get him where he wanted to go - So, night watchman it was.
In 1938 he married my beautiful grandmother Ida at the assumption church right across the street from G & G. In addition to the restaurant feeling like home, this church has also been a central part of my family. Every wedding, baptism, and funeral on both sides of my family have been at that church. That is the place where we joyfully celebrate life and love, and where we say a final farewell to loved ones, and for all of my life, I have exited that church, made my way down those steep steps that lead to the sidewalk, and, with the sound of the church bells in the background, I see Gene & Georgetti in front of me, waiting to celebrate with us, or to comfort us as we mourn a loss.
My grandfather, with his friend and partner Georgetti (who was actually named Alfredo Federighi) started Gene and Georgetti in 1941. This restaurant has stood in the very same place since the day that it opened. To me, the most incredible thing about the restaurant is not its longevity, or its fiercely loyal customer base (although both are equally impressive). What is most incredible to me is the very simple reality that Gene and Georgetti did not start this restaurant with the objective of becoming an icon, or legendary. They needed to pay bills, and put food on the table. And look where it is now...
They had no intention of catering to celebrities and politicians. They were young, Italian immigrants pursuing a dream of providing their families with a life that was better than the one they had left (and in all reality, my grandfather did not have it as bad as some did growing up, but even with that he knew he wanted more). Is there any symbol that more profoundly represents having a dream and stopping at nothing to accomplish bringing it to life?
They ran the restaurant together from 1941 to about 1969, with Georgetti in the kitchen and my dynamic and charming grandfather would stand at the bar and greet customers (he was the "front of house guy"). To this day, when I walk through those two sets of doors, and I round the corner to that spot where I can see the first floor in its entirety, I can still see him standing in that small crook at the end of the bar where the phone sits on the wall. His right elbow is resting on the mahogany bar and his dark, sparkling eyes are always focused on the door, ready to greet whomever comes into his place. I remember so vividly, when I was the one that walked through that door, and how I was greeted with laughter and hugs and huge smiles. It is with equal parts joy and sadness that I see all of those greeting flash before my eyes every time I step through those doors. In 1969, Georgetti passed away, and my grandfather ran the restaurant on his own from then until his death in 1989.
It was in 1989 that my parents purchased the restaurant from my grandmother and my father decided to run his national radio advertising company (with 12 offices nationwide) AND the restaurant for SEVEN years. Clearly, extraordinary individuals who will stop at NOTHING to pursue a dream run on both sides of my family. So, in 1989 the restaurant became as much about the grandfather that I adored and idolized as it did about the father that I adored and idolized. The two most important men in my life inextricably linked by this ever present place in my life. These are the two individuals who taught me that blood, guts, sweat, tears, failure and ultimately tenacity are what you bring to the table every day when you are in pursuit of bringing a dream to life. And all of that - at its very core - lives in the very building I am talking about in this very blog.
So you see, it was with immense pride and with the bar set incredibly high that now, 22 years after the death of Gene and on the cusp of turning 70 that my parents, the G & G staff, my company and I set out to create a celebration that was worthy of what was being celebrated. After three days, one fixed price menu, three charities selected, and over two thousand people coming through the door - not to mention press coverage that was out of this world (courtesy of Michelle Molise and Molise PR), It is with 100% confidence when I say that I think we did really good (click here for some of our recent press).
Below are a few shots - courtesy of Carasco from the Saturday celebration. To watch the video Brilliantly produced by Ben Mahoney Productions (Who we LOVE and adore!!) click HERE - if you have not seen this yet - you need to because it ROCKS!
But, we didn't stop there. We couldn't. Well truth be told, I couldn't. I was being followed, quietly yet with steadfast determination by the memories, the history and the roots and the knowing all of these stories and not bringing them together and collecting them. These are the things that give us our foundation in life. These stories are as much a part of the foundation of G&G as the very bricks and wood that hold it together year after year.
My father always said "It is hard to know where you are going if you do not know where you are coming from..." and as usual - he was profoundly correct. So, I woke up at 3:00 am with an idea to capture the very essence of Gene & Georgetti through the eyes of the staff, customers and family that are still here with us and who have lived through so much of G&G's history.
As many of you may remember, last summer, we had the pleasure of bringing this idea to life when we worked together with Scott & Cara of Carasco Photography and Steve & Ton-Essa of Loudbyte Cinematography for a three day shoot to capture the history, memories, staff, friends, family and Spirit of Gene & Georgetti as it was about to turn 70 years old.
And, it is with immense pride that I now get to share with all of you the trailer for the film that everyone came together to create over those three days. Which for me - is so much more than a film, or a collection of stories. It captures the very essence of the restaurant which in point of fact - is the embodiment of my grandfather's entrepreneurial spirit, that still greets me every time I pass through those double doors....to see the trailer, click here
I cannot WAIT to release details about the PREMIERE of this FABULOUS film! In the meantime, enjoy the photos and check out the trailer for the film! As always - SUCH a pleasure to work with Carasco & Loudbyte...and it is with my whole heart and soul that I thank them for helping me bring this dream idea to life and capture it so beautifully both in photos and in film. This project was a gift for me. I saw this restaurant, this structure, this place - through the eyes of its customers - who shared memories of their own families that blended seamlessly into my own...I watched members of the staff beam with pride as they announced they had been with G&G over 40 years, and I watched more than a few of them get emotional when mentioning my grandfather...and in all of those moments, through all of those people, Gene Michelotti and Alfredo "Georgetti" Federighi were not gone, but right there with us filming, and the restaurant came alive with an electricity and spirit like I had never seen...and we captured THAT on film. Magical does not even begin to describe it.
What I love more than anything about my job is that I get to work with people who have such a gift, and it is both a pleasure and a privilege to have them as both dear friends and pretty kick-ass colleagues! Cheers to everyone one of them that helped and continues to help make every one of our client's dreams come true and on a very personal note - some of my own...